The Clean Water Act gives way to another round of mission creep.
by A. Barton Hinkle
June 20, 2012
A half-century ago, John Pozsgai emigrated to America from Hungary. Twenty-five years later, he bought a hunk of land in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, that had been used as an illegal dumping ground for used tires and old car parts. Pozsgai wanted to build a garage on the land. So he hauled away the old tires—7,000 of them—and the rusty scrap metal, and hauled in clean fill dirt and topsoil.
No good deed goes unpunished, and Pozsgai's wasn't. Sometimes when it rained, the tires caused water to build up on the property. In the eyes of the federal government, that made it a wetland. Federal agents used surveillance cameras to record Pozsgai's cleanup activity and had him arrested for "discharging pollutants"—i.e., the fill dirt and topsoil—"into the waters of the United States." Convicted, he got a three-year prison sentence and a $200,000 fine.
If federal regulators have their way, America could see a lot more John Pozsgais in its future.
Pozsgai's ordeal was brought about by governmental mission creep. The Clean Water Act of 1972 protected the "navigable waters of the United States and their tributaries." But a series of court cases and bureaucratic decrees expanded the scope of the law to cover non-navigable waters, and even areas of dry land that become inundated after heavy rains or that support "vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated-soil conditions," such poison ivy, maple trees, and other "facultative" plants.
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